The Commuter - Review
The Commuter is a simple, exciting thriller from the director of Non-Stop and The Shallows, and is completely content with that. While the film tends to escalate too quickly, this is one of the most solid Liam Neeson action movies in recent memory, and an all-round entertaining film.
The Commuter goes bold in its opening credits sequence, with a well intentioned but clumsy opener that is meant to establish Neeson's daily routine. Dialogue is at its weakest here, and the sequence sets the film up in a very disjointed way that thankfully smooths out by the time Neeson arrives at his job.
Many interesting thrillers waste too much time in prologue, wasting a good concept on an attempt to inject reality into their story, and The Commuter takes about 25 minutes to get into the story, far from the worst offense I've ever seen. However, it does make the film feel very imbalanced, with the beginning feeling irrelevant while the rest demands attention and emotion towards ideas established in the prologue. This is the film's biggest issue; Neeson's character constantly calls back to his family and their safety as the plot moves forward, but the threat never feels as impactful as it should, since we never had a chance to know his family. The small glimpses we see of them are obtusely edited, and not written with the passion needed to evoke the reactions the film demands of us later.
Where The Commuter succeeds is in its tension and story. The idea is simple; Neeson is asked by a random woman (Vera Farmiga) to find a person on a train using minimal clues, with a reward of $100,000. Neeson is set up as a good guy, someone who would never kill or really do anything to anyone, yet he is thrown into situations that demand he do just that. He plays the role more like a father than a deadly action star, giving a welcome, if small change of pace to his usual action hero archetype. The story escalates as Neeson becomes more desperate for the reward, and he ends up inadvertently killing several people on the train. Near the end, the action ratchets to an almost ridiculous level, but the story remains interesting enough to maintain attention. Several well written twists and turns showcase the writing talents of Byron Willinger and Philip de Blasi, the film's two screenwriters, who leave no incident unexplained and no encounter meaningless, at least in the last hour of the picture.
Under a well written mystery, The Commuter succeeds as a simple shot of adrenaline. Where the film falters, it makes up for in its riveting story and tense atmosphere, as well as an admirable lead performance from Liam Neeson and a fun cast of supporting characters.